Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina is taking friendly fire from the conservative website The Daily Caller today, which criticizes the senator's efforts to facilitate a country club's hiring of Jamaican workers on temporary permits. At its heart, the critique isn't about politics — or even necessarily the Senate's pending immigration deal. Graham is not showing hypocrisy or erring on ethics rules. The critique is about jobs.
The Daily Caller outlines the situation. Graham told a Rotary lunch in Easley, South Carolina, that he went to the Department of Labor to "beg" the agency to allow the Kiawah Golf Club more temporary worker visas. The club had posted several hundred job openings, according to Graham (and as reported by Patch.com), but only nine Americans applied. Graham's advocacy apparently worked: the club received 172 H-2B temporary worker permits this year (compared to 150 last year). The club hired Jamaican workers at around minimum wage for service positions. "In exchange for easing the import of foreign workers," the Daily Caller writes, "Graham received greater support from the business community, including political donations from Kiawah’s manager and owner."
That's no surprise. Republican immigration policy has long been torn between the demands of two constituent groups. Voters have staunchly opposed illegal immigration, in part because of concerns that Americans would lose jobs to immigrants. For some businesses, though, immigrant workers — documented or not — offered a low-cost labor option. And for a long time, Graham has fought for a compromise that would make things easier for those businesses, allowing more immigrants to work in the country legally on a temporary basis — exactly what is allowed by the H-2B visas Graham apparently worked to secure for the country club.
Late in President Bush's second term, Graham joined Senators John McCain and Ted Kennedy to propose changes to the immigration system. That package included a new guest worker program that would have substantially increased the number of workers allowed employment in the United States for a short period of time. The bill failed. As the Daily Caller notes, Graham also last year argued against new H-2B restrictions, as reported by the Huffington Post.
Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) did not hold back in offering a harsher criticism of the reforms, saying that the new rules would "punish the employer." He argued that even the construction industry is having a hard time finding American workers willing to do seasonal jobs. …
"Like it or not, there are jobs in the construction field that are going unfilled after diligent advertising and paying the prevailing wage," Graham said. "Some of these jobs for whatever reason are seasonal, too. You have the same kind of dynamic."
In February, he echoed that sentiment: "Temporary workers are needed in the future."
Opposition to such a push usually comes not from the conservative media, but from organized labor. One of the key compromises in the close-to-finished immigration reform deal now drifting around Capitol Hill is a labor-business supported plan to increase the number of guest workers. The current limit allows for 66,000 guest workers on H-2B visas each year. The compromise proposal would gradually allow 75,000 additional workers, with the number then recalculated annually.
In 2007, while his party broadly opposed an immigration deal, Graham took significant political damage in pushing for reform. Now, most of the rest of his team in Congress is on board. If The Daily Caller is any indicator, though, Graham still hasn't figured out how to mollify concerns over domestic job losses. It writes:
Although Graham pointed up the low number of local applicants for the golf course jobs, he ignored the challenges facing low-skill workers in the Palmetto State. In 2012, South Carolina was home to 337,000 unemployed low-skill workers, according to a study by the Center for Immigration Studies, a research organization that advocates reduced immigration.
That’s roughly 1,982 unemployed South Carolinians for every job awarded to the country’s club’s Jamaicans.
In other words, Graham can likely still expect negative repercussions on the immigration package from one key group: Republican voters. But Graham has a political trick up his sleeve, as reported by The Times: "Anytime you challenge the president, Obama, it's good politics." On this, too, Graham has been entirely consistent.